Fresh Aztec Squad Rides Stifling Defense to 81-50 Victory

Credit: SDSU Men's Basketball

Credit: AP Photo

In the days approaching San Diego State’s matchup with Air Force, coach Brian Dutcher stressed that the team needed to find a “defensive identity.”

On Saturday night, they took an important step in finding that identity.

The Aztecs, who were fresh off Wednesday’s bye, began the game on a 23-7 run in the first 12 minutes, relying on stifling defense and a hot start from three-point range. They kept Air Force at arms’ distance the rest of the half, taking a 35-21 lead into the locker room. In the first half altogether, San Diego State limited the Falcons to 28% shooting (9-32) while also forcing eight turnovers and blocking six shots.

On offense, SDSU shot 50% from the field (12-24) in the first half. They were able to crack Air Force’s zone defense with elite perimeter shooting, knocking in 50% of their attempts from three-point land (8-16). 11 of their 12 first half baskets were assisted, with each player in the starting lineup scoring at least one field goal. Starting in place of injured senior guard Trey Kell, Jeremy Hemsley scored eight points to pace the home team.

The second half was more of the same, as the Aztecs outscored Air Force 46-29 in the closing 20 minutes to win 81-50. Rolling eight men deep due to injuries to Trey Kell and Nolan Narain, San Diego State showed no signs of fatigue. They shot 53.3% from the field in the second half, led by 14 points from Jalen McDaniels to cruise to victory. Meanwhile, Air Force continued to struggle from the field, shooting 38%.

All in all, Jalen McDaniels led the Aztecs in scoring with 16 points. Devin Watson (13), Jeremy Hemsley (14), and Max Montana (13) recorded double-digits in points as well.

Air Force was led by Lavelle Scottie, who poured in 16 points and snagged five rebounds. He was the only Falcon in double figures, as his team shot 33% from the field and 22% from three-point range.

The Good

  • Defense

The staple of Aztecs basketball in recent years has been defense. Mucking up the game, making it ugly, forcing turnovers, stuff like that. This season, though, the defense has not been what fans are used to. After giving up 88 points to UNLV a week ago, Brian Dutcher and the Aztecs’ coaching staff got to work this week with a focus on establishing a defensive identity. It seemed to have worked, at least tonight.

The numbers? 33% shooting, 22% from three, 10 blocked shots, 13 forced turnovers, and winning the rebound battle 41-29.

That’ll work.

Although Air Force is not necessarily the cream of the crop in the conference, Saturday’s game was a step in the right direction for the Aztecs.

  • Jalen McDaniels

The redshirt freshman continues to impress and establish his place among the Mountain West’s best. Tonight, McDaniels scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds. His fourteen second-half points helped the Aztecs pull away and roll to victory.

  • The starting backcourt

Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley put in work tonight. Watson scored 13 points on four shots while dishing out four assists. He also recorded three rebounds and a steal. Hemsley, who has struggled for the majority of the season, appears to be close to breaking out. He scored 14 on 5-8 shooting in tonight’s contest. It was his third straight game in which he scored in double figures. The Aztecs are a much better team when Hemsley is confident on the offensive end, and he seems to be on the upswing.

The Bad

  • Offensive rebounds

It is hard to complain about much in a 31-point win, but Air Force did win the offensive rebound battle tonight. They were able to record 14 offensive rebounds, which generated some extra opportunities for their offense.

  • WatchESPN¬†¬†

The game was strictly on WatchESPN tonight, and that isn’t exactly the smoothest streaming site out there. This is less of a “bad” on the Aztecs, and more of a “bad” on ESPN… who should have a much better streaming site.

The Better

  • Shooting

Any time you can shoot 52% from the field, 42% from three, and 82% from the free throw line at the college level, you are almost always going to be in a position to win the game. San Diego State continued a solid offensive campaign with a great showing tonight.

What’s next?

The Aztecs improved to .500 in the conference with tonight’s win, and they will look to continue their momentum on Tuesday night at Fresno State. Tip off is slated for 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.

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